William Heick

(b. 1917)


Heick grew up in Kentucky and went to the University of Cincinnati before enlisting in the Navy during World War II. Since the Navy needed photographers, Heick, though having little experience as a photographer, bought a Kodak manual, read it, and signed up the next day as a photographer. He served as a naval intelligence photographer in the Pacific. After the war, Heick moved to San Francisco where he worked in landscaping and studied at the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute) in his spare time. He befriended Imogen Cunningham and Dorothea Lange and photographed rigorously in the photo department that was founded by Ansel Adams and Minor White.


Heick's other passion was filmmaking. At California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), Heick collaborated with Sidney Peterson on his pioneering avant-garde film projects and later ventured to Seattle as the cinematographer for Orbit Films with Peterson and Douglas McAgey. He went on to work as a documentary filmmaker for Bechtel Corporation, filming and photographing Bechtel's work in South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and Indonesia. During this time he was still shooting with his still camera, capturing enduring images of indigenous peoples in these remote areas of the globe.


Mixing filmmaking, photography, and anthropology, Heick served as director and chief cinematographer for the Anthropology Department at the University of California at Berkeley on an American Indian project supported by the National Science Foundation. He wrote, produced, directed, and edited many outstanding films in this series. One documentary, Pomo Shaman, about an Indian doctoring ceremony is considered by anthropologists to be one of the most complete films of an aboriginal ceremony ever made. With Harvard University, Heick documented the fading culture of the British Columbian Indians in their Blunden Harbour fishing village. In 1967, he filmed The Voyage of the Phoenix for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about a controversial shipment of medical supplies taken by the Quakers into North Vietnam.


Heick's photographs have been exhibited in San Francisco at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the de Young Museum, and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor; at the Seattle Museum of Art; at London's House of Parliament; and in Prague. He was one of 11 living photographers included in 100 Years of California Photography at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. In 1999, his photographs of American Indians were exhibited at the Phoebe Hearst Anthropology Museum at the University of California, Berkeley; this series of photographs has also been acquired by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Heick's photos are in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


In addition to his achievements as a photographer, Heick has been recognized as a filmmaking as well. In 1999, he received an Award of Excellence from the International Cinematographers Guild, which was presented to him at George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic ranch in San Rafael, California. This award was in recognition of his contribution to documentary and ethnographic films over more than four decades. His films have been honored in American Film Festivals and with international awards at Venice, Cannes, Rome, and Edinburgh.